Pandemic Diary, April 8th, 2021: Power Failure

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus; I have made a single exception for this blogpost. After this, I will be going back on my self-imposed break from blogging.

So I am writing this blogpost on my iPhone, sitting in the last good light of this damp and overcast day on my bedroom patio, facing the forest behind my apartment. Why? Because there has been a massive power failure in most of south And east Winnipeg this afternoon.

After waiting for an hour for the power to come back on, I finally gave up, put on my scarf and a fleece-lined jacket, and deposited myself outside with my iPhone. I am in a grumpy mood. The province next door, Ontario, just imposed a one-month stay-at-home order for 30 days, starting at noon today, and I believe that it is only a matter of time before we have a lockdown here in Manitoba too (in fact, they never really released most of the restrictions imposed in the second lockdown in early November!).

Manitoba Hydro failed us BIG TIME today…

I am prepared should the power remain out all evening; as part of my pandemic preparations from 15-16 years ago I have a portable camp stove and fuel, and I also have a converter to allow me to plug devices like my iPhone in to recharge from my car’s battery.

I spent part of the time standing outside in the cold drizzle, having a socially distanced chat with my upstairs neighbor oasis she stood on her 2nd floor balcony having a cigarette. Yes, I was reduced to TALKING TO PEOPLE while my computer was down!

I now have no less than three virtual conferences to prepare for:

1. The Virtual Ability Mental Health Symposium to be held April 16th in Second Life, where I will talking about acedia during the coronavirus pandemic. They asked me to speak because of the blogpost I wrote on the topic, which apparently several people had told them about.

2. I have just been accepted to present on developing a taxonomy of social VR platforms at the 2021 Immersive Learning Research Network conference, to be held in VirBELA.

3. Finally, I’ve been asked to moderate a panel discussion at the 2021 Educators in VR virtual conference taking place in AltspaceVR this coming May.

So, as you can see, I am going to be quite busy the next few months!

The power just came back on after over 2-1/2 hours, so I guess I’d better crank up my PC to make sure it’s OK.

Stay safe and stay healthy!

Pandemic Diary, April 5th, 2021: So Close, So Close and Yet So Far

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus; I have made a single exception for this blogpost. After this, I will be going back on my self-imposed break from blogging.

My eyes adored you
Though I never laid a hand on you,
My eyes adored you
Like a million miles away from me you couldn’t see
How I adored you…
So close, so close and yet so far

My Eyes Adored You, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

Today is officially Day 386 since I began working in self-isolation from my apartment for my university library system. Since my last Pandemic Diary post, two significant things have occurred:

  1. On March 18th I received my first vaccine shot, and
  2. On March 22nd, I returned to my office at the University of Manitoba Libraries for the first time in over a year.

As someone who is older (age 57), and with several underlying health conditions which put me at risk of a severe, possibly even fatal, response to infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus (I am severely overweight, plus I have asthma, hypertension, and type II diabetes), I was among the first Manitobans under the age of 60 to get vaccinated at my local pharmacy. I received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with a follow-up shot sometime in July.

I have been following the news reports of possible blood clots in a few people who have received the vaccine, and I am not worried; I know that the chance of me getting a blood clot from the AstraZenca vaccine is much lower than the chance of me getting a blood clot from COVID-19! As a science librarian, I trust the science behind the vaccines, and I am eagerly looking forward to getting my second dose.

Canadians are watching the U.S. roll out an aggressive vaccination campaign with envy. Canada is far, FAR behind the U.S., the U.K., and other countries in its COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Up here in Canada, we already have had serious outbreaks of variants of concern from the U.K. and Brazil in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, and it seems all but certain the we will experience a third wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths here in Manitoba soon, with a third lockdown (and we never really opened back up from the second lockdown imposed in early November!). We are, indeed, so close and yet so far. It is frustrating beyond belief!

As for my return to the office, I was sitting on the fence about taking an extended sick leave for treatment of depression, when my supervisor told me that the buildings on campus could now be staffed at 40% of regular occupancy (up from 25%). I leapt at the opportunity to be able to work outside my home, after over a year of working from my home, being stuck within the same four walls day after day! I am starting off with just one day a week in the office, but I do have the option of coming in more frequently than that (at least, until the third lockdown happens, and it will).

In fact, the mood improved immediately after spending just one day back in my office, chatting with the few coworkers who are here (masked and socially distanced chats, but still, actual face-to-face conversations!). I even wandered around the library, taking a few snaphots. My office looks much the same as when I left it over a year ago, in near-pristine condition which will not last very long:

My library is still closed to non-librarian faculty, non-Libraries staff, and all students. The library, usually a quiet place even when it was full of students, is now eerily silent:

And I finally brought my work Oculus Rift VR headset back into the office from my apartment, where I had taken it when the pandemic started in March 2020, and spent part of my day today setting it up again. I popped into AltspaceVR and Nature Treks VR, and of course Sansar, just to test that everything was working okay. Instead of having to install countless updates to my Sansar client which had occurred during my yearlong absence from the office, I simply deleted the program and reinstalled it from scratch from the Sansar website, and then I paid a visit to my world, Ryan’s Garden, and its animated carousel, still one of my most cherished virtual possessions!

Yes, I do still have an Oculus Rift headset, which I had originally purchased for my suspended research project. I have an Oculus account for it, and I have absolutely ZERO plans to set up an account on the Facebook social network for it! Good thing that I don’t need to make any account decisions for at least another two years, during which time I will probably spend some of my accumulated Travel & Expense funds to upgrade the Rift to a Valve Index, like I now have at home. This Rift is my final link to Facebook, and I am itching to get rid of it! (I have yet to come up with a new, replacement research project involving virtual reality and libraries, but I have a few ideas.)

Stay safe and stay healthy!

Pandemic Diary, March 16th, 2021: What I Have Learned from One Full Year of Working from Home in Self-Isolation During the Coronavirus Pandemic (BONUS: Ryan’s Recipes!)

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus, but I wanted to post an Pandemic Diary update today, on the first anniversary of my working from home in self-isolation for my university library system. After this, I will be going back on my self-imposed break from blogging.

Exactly one year ago today, on March 16th, 2020, I began working from home for my full-time paying job as a science librarian at the University of Manitoba. A week later, my library colleagues were all sent home to work and the campus was shut down. I never dreamed that I would still be working from home 365 days later, but here I am!

So, how am I? And what have I learned from the past year?

How am I doing? Well, this morning I tweeted:

I myself have found that the longer this pandemic drags on, my depression is slowly getting worse and worse. I am doing *EVERYTHING* I can to take care of myself, but so many others are struggling with mental health issues due to, or exacerbated by, the pandemic. Reach out!

One year in, I am starting to fray at the edges, and it bothers me a great deal. I am experiencing the worst insomnia that I have ever experienced in my life, sleeping four, two, or even only one hour per night, and operating like a zombie during the day. (In my last grocery pickup at my local Walmart, I included a bottle of melatonin. I tried it for the first time last night, and I am pleased to report that I achieved a record six hours of sleep! Woohoo!)

I have written many times before about my use of virtual reality as a way to help treat my chronic clinical depression. On May 4th, 2018, I wrote on this blog:

I first got my Oculus Rift headset back in January 2017, when I was on sick leave for depression from my job, and my life was feeling pretty bleak. Shortly afterwards, I also got the Oculus Touch hand controllers to be able to handle objects in VR.

I have no scientific proof, but I do believe that using that VR headset regularly—creating art using TiltBrush and Oculus Medium, using apps like Guided Meditation VR and Nature Treks VR, and interacting with other avatars and exploring new experiences in High Fidelity and the then-closed Sansar beta—was indeed a beneficial factor in my most recent recovery from depression. The best way I can describe it was that VR got my neurons firing again!

Photo by Michael Efemena on Unsplash

Well, I am pretty depressed at the moment, and I decided that I need to get my neurons firing again! So today I went on a shopping spree on Steam, buying the following five programs and apps for my Valve Index headset:

  • The Room VR: A Dark Matter
  • Beat Saber
  • Nature Treks VR (a longtime favourite)
  • Tilt Brush
  • Virtual Desktop

Yes, in moving from an Oculus Rift to a Valve Index (an upgrade in every single way), I have had to rebuy a few programs, but actually not that many. Most of the time I use my VR headset to visit social VR platforms like VRChat, Rec Room, NeosVR, and Sansar, which of course are free to use (although some now offer a paid-for, premium version, too). And Nature Treks VR helps me with my anxiety, too. It’s also a great place to meditate!

And I am struggling not only with clinical depression and major insomnia, but also some serious anxiety, which has gotten noticeably worse over the past twelve months.

For example, I find that even the slightest trigger events will make me feel a high, out-of-proportion level of anxiety, to the extent that my heart is actually pounding and my breathing becomes more shallow! It feels like a mini panic attack, and it is a most uncomfortable and horrible sensation, one that is brand new to me. I absolutely hate feeling this way. I feel like my resilience, my ability to bounce back, has been significantly impaired.

I have in the past taken prescription Lorazepam for my anxiety, but at my psychiatrist’s suggestion, I am now taking valerian root instead whenever I feel anxious. She also recommended that I investigate transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS; Wikipedia, Mayo Clinic) for anxiety. Here’s the 2012 journal article she recommended to me, to use as the starting point for my research!

Apparently, there are now relatively inexpensive devices which attach to your ears in some way? I have always been curious about TMS, and whether or not this would help me, and so I might be willing to try this out sooner rather than later.

So, a few stats from a year in partial or total lockdown.

I have not set foot once in a grocery store in a whole year (I shop for my groceries online using the Walmart website, then drive to the loading dock at the back of my local Walmart, get out of my car and stand at least 2 metres away while an associate loads it up, then drive away.)

Aside from ten trips through the McDonald’s drive-through, and half a dozen summertime dinners with my best friend John on the socially distanced outdoor patio at my local Boston Pizza or Smitty’s, I have not been a patron of any restaurants. All the money I spent on restaurants has gone to Walmart, which has resulted in some significant savings (a lesson learned, perhaps?).

I have not had a haircut since January 2020. I now wear my hair in the tiniest of ponytails, and add a headband when my bangs get irritating. I have decided that I will only get my hair cut once I have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

I have only filled up the gas tank on my car three times since March 16th, 2020, and I am still near the top of my third tank of gas, so that tells you how often I have taken my car out over the past year. I never even bothered to take off my winter tires last summer! What was the point?

I believe that, in 12 months, I have only been touched by another human being a grand total of three times:

  1. the pharmacist who gave me my flu shot (wearing latex gloves and a facemask);
  2. the dermatologist I saw about my eczema (likewise wearing gloves and a facemask);
  3. my best friend John who, at one of our aforementioned restaurant patio suppers, reached out and briefly touched my forearm while making a point (I jumped out of my skin!)

I have, in 365 days, not had a single hug. I am absolutely aching for a hug. (Once all this is over, I plan to give many people some *BIG* gay bear hugs.)

Photo by Igor Érico on Unsplash

And finally, after all the statistics I have rattled off, the uncountable: I have participated in more Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco WebEx virtual meetings with family, friends, and coworkers than I can count.

My arts and entertainment group meets virtually using Zoom

So, what have I learned over the past 365 days of partial or complete lockdown?

First, I have learned that everybody is struggling with mental health and/or addiction issues during the pandemic. For example, my psychiatrist told me (in our biweekly telephone conversations that have replaced in-person appointments since the pandemic started) that she had picked up smoking again, after 27 years! She also told me that all of her clients have been feeling more depressed lately. Apparently I am far from alone.

I have also learned, after over 30 years of eating out at restaurants at least once a day, that I can actually cook for myself—and enjoy doing so. And I find that as I build up my confidence in my cooking skills, I am getting more creative over time!

For example, I love lasagna, but I hate waiting for it to bake in the oven (like Garfield the cat, when I want lasagna, I WANT IT NOW). So here is my recipe for an easy 3-cheese lasagna that only takes 15 minutes to prepare using an electric skillet, or a deep stove-top skillet. Enjoy!

Ryan’s 15 Minute Three-Cheese Lasagna

You will need:

  • 500 g (1 pound) extra lean ground beef (you can use less lean ground beef, but then you will have to drain the fat from it)
  • one box (193 g) of Hamburger Helper Lasagne (NOT the Four Cheese Lasagnae!)
  • 250 mL (1 cup) 3-cheese blend (I buy this pre-shredded, although of course you can save money by shredding your own cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses.)
  • Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Prepare the Hamburger Helper Lasagne according to the package instructions in an electric skillet or a deep stove-top skillet. When ready, cover the bottom of a serving dish with the lasagna mixture, then sprinkle the shredded cheese over it. Keep alternating layers until you run out of Hamburger Helper and cheese. If you wish, dust the top with grated parmesan cheese.

Serve immediately with a glass of cold milk and a tossed salad. Yum!

That’s it! It’s so easy, and it satisfies that Garfield lasagna hunger very well. I also find that it keeps well in the refrigerator, and leftovers can easily be reheated in the microwave.

Here’s a second quick and easy recipe I whipped up during the pandemic:

Ryan’s 15 Minute Butter Chicken with Rice

You will need:

Prepare the rice according to the package stovetop directions (15 minutes). Five minutes before the rice is ready to serve, put the soup in a microwave-safe container and microwave on high for 5 minutes. To serve, simply pour the hot soup over a bed of rice! Add seasonings such as pepper to taste. Enjoy!

See? It’s easy, people. If a lummox like me can do this, anybody can be a cook! I might never again be the frequent restaurant patron I was before the pandemic hit.

Anyways, I just wanted to tell people how I was doing. I will resume my indefinite hiatus from blogging to focus my limited energies on my full-time paying job, and on recovering from this pernicious bout of the blues.

Stay safe and stay healthy!

The first 3 things I plan to do once this goddamned pandemic is over are:

1) Hug the stuffing out of as many people as I can
2) Schedule a bisexual/pansexual orgy
3) Travel around the world

My name is Ryan and thank you for coming to my TED Talk!

Please Read: The Blog Is on Indefinite Hiatus

Next week, I will reach the one-year mark of working from home in self-isolation for my university library system (my full-time paying job). As the pandemic drags on, my chronic clinical depression has become worse and worse. I regret that I am now at the point where I have to put this blog on hold. For how long, I don’t know. At least until I can get my worsening depression under some sort of control.

I am really struggling with my mental state, and I need to do this to focus my limited energies on my paying jobI WANT TO MAKE THIS VERY CLEAR: I AM NOT SUICIDAL!!! I just need to take a break from the blog.

I need to take some time to heal

I will still be active on the Discord server, Twitter, and Clubhouse (where all I have to do is listen), and I will still be showing up at Bray’s Place in Second Life, and perhaps a few other social VR platforms and virtual worlds (I feel very guilty for neglecting Sinespace these past six months). But that’s the extent of what I can do right now.

So this will be my last blogpost for a while. I’m so sorry, you guys. I tried to keep going, but I have to rest and heal for a bit. I hope you understand, but even if you don’t, I am still stepping away from the blog.

Clip ‘n’ Save: Mental Health Resources During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Image source: Kids Help Phone (Canada)